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World Health Organization recognises traditional medicine, with new global centre, high-level summit and strategy

30 Aug 2023
After decades struggling for recognition, the worlds of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine (TCIM) have been validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) with the creation of the WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine and the convening of the first high-level global summit for the sector.

The WHO Global Centre for Traditional Medicine, which soft launched in 2022, is building a permanent headquarters in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India. The centre will be an ‘accessible, eco-friendly and interactive facility’ showcasing global traditions and modern scientific advances in traditional medicine.

As lead investor, the Indian government has committed US$250 million to support the centre’s establishment, infrastructure and operations. An opening date has not yet been set.

Held recently in Gujarat, India, the WHO Traditional Medicine Summit showcased TCIM’s role in driving progress in global health and sustainable development as well as exploring ways to scale scientific advances and mobilise political commitment and evidence-based action.

Speaking about the event, WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Traditional medicine can play a catalytic role in achieving universal health coverage.

“Bringing TCIM into the mainstream of healthcare, appropriately, effectively and above all, safely – based on the latest scientific evidence – can help bridge health access gaps for millions of people.”

Ghebreyesus said he believes traditional medicine can play an important role in meeting global health targets that were off-track, even before the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Delegates attended from 88 nations and included health ministers, scientists, TCIM practitioners and healthcare professionals.

Indigenous peoples were also present – including attendees from Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Guatemala and New Zealand – for whom TCIM plays a fundamental role, not only in healthcare, but also in their culture and in sustaining livelihoods.

The agenda
The summit schedule saw scientists and specialists lead technical discussions on research, evidence and learning; policy, data and regulation; innovation and digital health; and biodiversity, equity and indigenous knowledge.

Early findings were also shared from the new WHO Global Survey on Traditional Medicine 2023 (third edition), which documents the status of TCIM globally.

The full survey will be released later this year and will inform the development of WHO’s new Traditional Medicine Strategy 2025-2034.

The summit also highlighted the important role that AI can play in mining complex data available on TCIM and identifying practices that show promise for further scientific evaluation.

WHO said the event closed with a “Strong commitment from partners and stakeholders to harness the potential of evidence-based TCIM”.

The aim is to deploy TCIM to improve progress towards universal health coverage and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, for the wellbeing of people and planet.

Action plan
In closing the summit, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “Together, we’ve shaken up the status quo that has long separated different approaches to medicine and health.

“By taking aim at these silos, we’re saying we’ll collaborate to find optimal ways of bringing TCIM under the umbrella of primary healthcare and universal health coverage.”

He added: “We’ve reiterated how crucial it is to get better evidence on the effectiveness, safety and quality of traditional and complementary medicine. That means introducing innovative methodologies for assessing and evaluating outcomes.”

The summit’s summary document includes commitments from participants on issues ranging from global policy, leadership, innovation and health workforce data to evidence, monitoring and regulation. It also covers legal frameworks, biodiversity and sustainable development.

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